Spirella and Bloomsbury Technical School for Women


In 1939, at the outbreak of World War II, the only technical college in London known to have taught courses in the design and making of corsets  was evacuated 30 miles north of its London site to Letchworth in Hertfordshire where the main Spirella factory was located.


The move of Bloomsbury Technical School  for Women raises many questions. How was this location decided? Was this pure coincidence or part of a plan? Could some of the women (Frank Gardner was the only man who ever took the course) teaching and following the courses in Corset Design and Corset Making have been sent there as apprentices by Spirella, or were they recruited by Spirella when they got their diplomas? Could this have influenced the choice of location for the School's evacuation?


It would be interesting to know whether Spirella’s staff assisted in he planning of the corsetry courses, first in Bloomsbury bearing in mind that the main London Shop of Spirella was at Oxford Circus not far away from Bloomsbury, and of course in Letchworth.


Perhaps there are readers of Ivy Leaf’s Tribute who may know. If so please contact Ivy Leaf.


Founded in 1913 by the London County Council’s education department as the Bloomsbury Trade School for Women [1] It was one of many such schools founded at the time in response to the perceived need to improve the technical education of young women in the city. The courses taught included most skills required for the making of clothing including the design and making of corsets.


The School was located in Queen Square in Bloomsbury. There was and still is pedestrian access to the square from Russell Square (and the Imperial and Russell hotels) . The selection of the location clearly took account of the proximity of a nearby centre of the London Rag Trade located in the area bounded by Upper Regent Street, Oxford Street and Great Portland Street. The 1960s TV series with Miriam Carlin “The Rag Trade” was set there. This would have made it convenient for day release students or those following half day release form their place of work.


The school continued at the location until 1960 when it was closed by the LCC. By now the school leaving age was 15, soon to be 16 and the role of Technical Schools was being taken over by new, purpose built schools. In the case of Bloomsbury, as was the case with other trade schools, departments that were judged to be worth retaining, were relocated to form part of the Risinghill Comprehensive School, near Kings Cross that opened in 1960. It is not known but doubtful if its corsetry courses survived.


Risinghill was one of the first comprehensive schools in London and was located in a new building. The school and its departments only survived for five years.. It was a victim of the Grammar v Comprehensive debate that raged with the LCC/GLC at that time and became a cause celebre with left leaning activists. Here there is another connection to corset making since it was located on Rising Hill street in the area east of Kings Cross. The block in which it was located is bounded on its west by Caledonian Road, on the south by Pentonville Road and on the east by Upper Street. This is the exact same area in which one found Gardner’s shop a little to the north, while the renowned corsetiere established in the “Belle Epoque” (the era of the Straight front, kangaroo corset and the Gibson Girl), Madame Lorette, had one of her two salons on Upper Street itself. Her other salon was in Croydon, south of London.





 [1]Any one intending to do research should know that, as is common with institutions with long names and names which change, Bloomsbury School was no exception. By the mid-1930s the word “Trade” was replaced by “Technical’ and it was often referred to as a “college”.